The Opposite of Wealth
By Danni Green
For as long as I remember, my family has struggled financially. At home, it was always never enough. Consequently, like all deprived kids, I liked fantasizing about being rich. I’m twenty-three years-old now and I still fantasize about being rich, but my cravings are increasingly leading me towards a cause that is no fantasy.
About two months ago, a friend of mine had a picture in her Snapchat showing a cardboard box that read, “The Opposite of Poverty Does Not Equal Wealth.” My friend said that she just wanted to share the image but didn’t know what the opposite of poverty could possibly be. To me, it’s quite simple, poverty means a recurrent fear of not having medical insurance. Because it lives in poverty itself, this anxiety has been with me for so long that when my dental problems went truly bad at the start of last year, the ordeal just felt… inevitable. Maybe that is the opposite of wealth?
It was a January night last year, one unforgivably cold night in Philadelphia, where I went to visit a dear friend of mine. The two of us along with family and friends cozied up with blankets by the fireplace, we kept joking around while munching on peanut butter filled pretzels. Mid-chew, I heard a crack then felt a throbbing pain on the upper right hand side of my mouth. I have not chewed on the right side of my mouth ever since because my gums are permanently swollen. At that point I’d already been eating with a hallow tooth for over a year and had had a root canal done on my right back molar twice. Each time I received treatment, the dentist would obligingly fill my tooth but I was never allowed a crown. This is partly because my insurance was not accepted in Portland, Oregon, where I attended college, and partly because of the hassle of scheduling an appointment during my rare and short stays in New York City, where I’m from.
“This meant that I would no longer have to use prayer as a prophylactic against infection.”
I lost my dental insurance entirely when I turned twenty-two, which didn’t feel like a big deal because I hadn’t been to the dentist for four years. Within a month of graduating from college, I found a salaried job with benefits. I was beyond excited to finally get my dental issues resolved, this to me meant that I would no longer have to use prayer as a prophylactic against infection. I ended up leaving that job within a few months, but luckily, I was able to continue my coverage as per the COBRA law which allows people in my situation to maintain their insurance coverage for a while.
I made an appointment at a dentist office and in February to have my teeth cleaned. But the dentist had other worries than building tartar or rather I did. He said that my molar was cracked in half—what a shocker—and needed to be extracted. I was also told that I have several cavities on the left side of my mouth (undoubtedly due to not getting my teeth cleaned for years and over usage) and in March of this year, I was referred to an oral surgeon. After a hassle over paperwork, it turned out that my insurance would pay for the procedure with a co-payment of one hundred fifty dollars—which I didn’t have—but it would not cover an implant. I would be in the same situation: with a hole in my mouth, I would be susceptible to infection, and I won’t be able to chew on the that side. The problem wouldn’t be over just kept at bay for a while so I chose not to have the procedure done.
Time passed and my molar continued to cause pain when my friend snapchatted me a picture of the complete quote: “The Opposite of Poverty Does Not Equal Wealthy. The Opposite of Poverty Equals Justice.” I took a screenshot of the image and made it the background on my phone; I wanted this thought to always be present. I began to think about what it would mean if poor people received justice distribution, versus the wealth one. I began to take notice of others like me: a young black woman likely to live in poverty, a woman who makes less money than men doing the same job, girls who overwhelmingly work in industries that aren’t lucrative.
“I don’t need access. It does me no service to access a product that I cannot afford.”
Then I watched a debate on the future of healthcare on CNN between Senators Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, and the idea that justice is indeed the opposite of poverty became clearer by the minute. The first question from the audience came from a woman with breast cancer. She was worried that if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare was repealed she would not be able to afford her treatment. The next question came from a small business owner. She owned hair salons but was unable to expand her business because she couldn’t afford healthcare for her employees or herself. Another woman stood up to address the issue of having a health insurance with deductible so high that it was cheaper to pay the penalty for not having insurance. Another woman with multiple sclerosis asked a question about affording her health costs. A pregnant woman wanted to know if she would be covered under the new proposed bill if ACA was repealed. I learned that prior to ACA, a woman was considered by insurance companies as a “pre-existing condition” because she could get pregnant. Those women wanted justice the same way I do. Justice means not having their income determine if they can get proper medical care. They want affordable coverage.
As things stand today, under the new healthcare bill it looks like the wealthiest Americans would receive a considerable amount of money in tax breaks while the poorest and sickest among us would not. Many Republicans guarantee that this new plan will “provide access”, but I don’t need access. It does me no service to access a product that I cannot afford. This is the equivalent of me entering a designer clothing store, when I can’t afford to purchase a dress, what would I achieve?
“It doesn’t change the overall problem of poverty in this country; it only makes me feel better.”
Each day I think about what would need to happen for all people to have insurance that covers their needs. It seems to me that wealth is not the opposite of poverty because acquiring wealth would simply be transferring money to me. If I were no longer poor and could afford better insurance and an implant, then someone else would be denied theirs. If I could afford to eat more than one meal a day, then someone else wouldn’t. The alleviation of my financial hardships would simply mean that another person is struggling with money. It doesn’t change the overall problem of poverty in this country; it only makes me feel better. Right now, my only consolation is that I’m not alone. There are countless people who share my concern. I accept that justice is the opposite of my and others’ poverty. I am twenty-three years old and not obsessing about wealth so much as I am craving for justice. My question then becomes how do we get justice?